Mirror Mirror is a limited-release English Barleywine aged in oak barrels. This is only brewed every four or five years. The heart of the brew consists of a double batch of Mirror Pond Pale Ale, of which 50% then goes on to be aged in retired Pinot Noir, Tempranillo and Malbec barrels for ten months. Aromas are malt-forward, suggesting caramel sweet bread and cinnamon rolls. Sweetness is like brown sugar with heavier notes of maple syrup. Booze gives obvious fusel notes.
The palate opens in a flood of sweet, caramelized barley with that classic Barleywine flavor. Hops rise with modest orange-citrus highlights. A big body of dark fruits touches on dried apricot, raisin, plum, and date. The barrel-aging has a drying effect with tart, vinous qualities reminiscent of cherries and tannins like red grape skin. A spicy quality hits, then hops re-emerge with herbal bitterness to help counterbalance the heavy sugar weight. Malts develop a mild roast with weak hints of chocolate. Final remarks give details of oak and caramel popcorn. The mouthfeel carries soft carbonation over a full, creamy body that ends a little dry and sticky. Sweetness stops just shy of cloying. Lingering bitterness does a great job at persistently masking the alcohol.
Overall, I think this a finely tuned, exceptional Barleywine. Although the barrel has a restrained impact, it adds a unique flavor that bumps the complexity a few points. As it warms, the hops and booze land a bit more front-and-center. Sweetness is right on target in terms of style, coming to a pleasant agreement with the hoppy bitterness. The hop level itself is about right for my taste, but a little age would probably do wonders. I recommend it to malt lovers with high sweet tolerance.
This Wild (sour) Ale is brewed with California-grown blackberries, then aged in wine barrels for several months. Almanac refers to this as a “sour blonde ale,” which uses a proprietary blend of wild Belgian and American yeasts, including San Francisco sourdough starter. It belongs to the Farmer’s Reserve series, which feature different locally-sourced fruits for each individual beer. Aromas provide definitive notes of blackberry, although with a tart, citric side that resembles lemon with white wine acidity. Hints of grain are overshadowed by funky yeast.
The palate opens in a splash of sweetness, followed immediately by flavors of wild blackberry. Sourness emerges with lemon, accelerating toward a bright climax that stops just short of puckering. Wild yeast imparts a sort of earthy, floral funk that flows into a vinous body similar to a dry white wine. The finish closes in hints of stone fruit, followed by a mild exposure of oak outlined by vanilla. The mouthfeel delivers sharp carbonation over a temperate body that leaves clean and refreshing.
I think this tastes like lemon-berry soda with a splash of white wine. The flavor lies in the complementary relationship of wild yeast and barrel-aging. I do wish this had a more authentic blackberry flavor (maybe they should talk to Samuel Smith’s). If every Almanac beer is as good or better than this, I will look forward to navigating my way through the rest of their lineup. If you dig sour ales, this brewery is a must-try. I recommend it.